More best mysteries of 2009

January 3, 2010 at 4:29 pm (Best of 2009, books, Mystery fiction)

On her blog Mysteries in Paradise, Kerrie is asking people to contribute lists of ten favorite reads to the comment section. So far, she’s got over forty comments! I’m number forty-one. Naturally, I had trouble whittling my list down, so it consists of twelve titles rather than ten. (It also differs in some particulars from the list I posted on December 20.)

Kerrie’s goal is to collate the lists and publish her  findings. We look forward to seeing the results of your labors, Kerrie.  Thanks for your services to us (devoted) readers of crime fiction.

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Suggestions from Salon for best of 2009

December 23, 2009 at 2:32 pm (Best of 2009, books)

I’ve long appreciated Salon’s generous coverage of books. Here are Laura Miller’s choices for best fiction and nonfiction of 2009.

As if she could not stop herself, this passionate reader went on to name her favorites of the decade. (And aren’t I delighted to see The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher on that list!)

I’m not sure what the relationship of “Open Salon” is to “Salon” proper, but the site features an excellent aggregator of “best fiction of 2009” lists. (Be sure to look closely at the entry from Publishers Weekly. They stirred up a hornet’s nest by coming out with a “ten best” list that did not include a single work by a female author! This in a year of so many outstanding works by women; among them Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s stunning Man Booker Prize winner. Once again, Laura Miller has a thoughtful piece on the PW dustup.)

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More best crime fiction of 2009

December 20, 2009 at 6:25 pm (Best of 2009, books, Mystery fiction)

Some folks in the blogosphere have been helpfully aggregating. Here’s Janet Rudolph’s much appreciated list of lists. (Thanks to Carol of the Usual Suspects for sending me this and many other useful links.)

Here are the selections made by Marilyn Stasio, veteran reviewer of crime fiction for the New York Times.

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Best books of 2009: my own favorites

December 20, 2009 at 2:50 am (Best of 2009, books, Mystery fiction)

This is the day to  work on this, for sure. We are completely snowed in – socked in, and immobilized. I always love a day like this,  although tomorrow, when we start shoveling out our fifty-plus foot long driveway, my sentiments will be of a somewhat different cast. Nevertheless:

“Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TOMORROW, and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TODAY be sweet!”

(Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur, Verse 37)

So here they are:

Roberta’s Choice for Best Books Read in 2009


Wolf Hall by HilaryMantel
Love and Summer by William Trevor
To Heaven by Water by Justin Cartwright
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
It’s Beginning To Hurt by James Lasdun
Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro


Piper on the Mountain by Ellis Peters
The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum
Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey
Pix by Bill James
All My Enemies by Barry Maitland
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Turning Point by Peter Turnbull
White Nights by Ann Cleeves
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
About Face by Donna Leon
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri
The Price of Malice by Archer Mayor
Caravaggio’s Angel by Ruth Brandon
The Listening Walls by Margaret Millar
The Private Patient by P.D. James
Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W.J.  Burley
The Professional by Robert B. Parker
Hit and Run by Lawrence Block
Fell Purpose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles


The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, by Ulrich Boser


I’ll have more to say on this by and by, but first and foremost I wanted to get the basic list posted.

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It’s that time again: end of the year Best Books lists

December 14, 2009 at 3:20 am (Best of 2009, books)

Here we go again. This year, the lists began appearing in print and online earlier than usual – or at least, it seems so to me. (One blogger plaintively asked, “Doesn’t anyone read in December?”) I have to be very judicious when it comes to perusing these lists: they make me wonder what I’ve been doing all year while I thought I was reading…

As the twentieth century drew to a close (and doesn’t it seem as though that happened ages ago!), we were treated to (or tormented by, depending on your own point of view) several lists of Best Books of the Twentieth Century. The one that seems to have made the greatest impact was compiled by Modern Library. That list in turn generated responses from various other entities.

In the ten years since, it seems as though the fate of the book – in particular the traditional book on the printed page – has been increasingly called into question. As if that debate were not sufficiently disturbing,  those of us for years have been completely immersed in the biblio- world received a shock just recently when it was announced that Kirkus Reviews is ceasing publication. Kirkus has been a basic and essential selection tool for librarians and book store owners since 1933; its reviews were sharp, incisive, informed and unbiased. They were also great fun to read and can be sampled on the Gale database GeneralOneFile. (You’ll need to enter a library card bar code in order to access this content.) On the other hand, according to this piece in the New York Times, not everyone is weeping over the demise of Kirkus…

When I see Kindle and its cousins achieving increased market penetration, I comfort myself with the thought that after all, this is just another form of reading. And yet – take this, my favorite first sentence in a novel. It is from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens:

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

These pages…in years hence, will we still speak of a book’s pages?

Ah well – enough of these melancholy ruminations! Here  are some lists. I’ve already written about the first compilation of its type that came to my attention; it appears in the Atlantic. Here are  the ten best books of the year as selected by the New York Times. On the right, you’ll see a link to the paper’s list of 100 notable books, and also to the individuals selections of several veteran reviewers. I am thrilled to see that Maile Meloy’s hugely enjoyable story collection made the top ten. So did The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes, a work that held me spellbound for weeks (and how sorry I am that it is over!).

Some publications have upped the ante by selecting the best books of the decade. Here’s Sarah Weinman choice for best crime fiction of the past ten years. I like this list; I like in particular what Weinman says about Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. She precisely nails what makes that novel so special.

The Times online has put together a list of the one hundred best books of the decade. This could keep us all busy for the decade to come – or the next century, for that matter! Great annotations here, too. And today’s edition of the Washington Post contained a special edition of Book World featuring choices for best of 2009. I have not yet looked inside…at this point, I don’t dare!

Stay tuned – more to come…

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Best books of 2009: The Atlantic

December 4, 2009 at 1:24 pm (Best of 2009, books, Short stories)

The December issue of the Atlantic features critic Benjamin Schwarz’s picks for the twenty-five best books of 2009. It’s an excellent list – an eclectic mixtures of novels, short stories, and nonfiction, the latter consisting primarily of works of history and biography. (Alas no genre fiction, but no surprises there.) Schwarz begins with his top five, followed by twenty additional runners up.

But wait – what’s this I see? In that list of the top five is a short story collection that I loved, by an author whose works I recommend at every opportunity:

Take the time to listen to the short interview with Schwarz: he packs a number of provocative observations into a discussion that’s under five minutes in length. Among other topics, he addresses the contention that we have now arrived at “the end of the history of the book.”  (Got anything sharp I can slit my wrists with? No – just kidding…)

Schwarz calls It’s Beginning To Hurt “an almost perfect book.” Such a perceptive man!

After you’ve read these stories, you can then proceed to Lasdun’s two fine novels of psychological suspense:

End of the book indeed! Not while I’m still here to pester you with recommendations, Dear Reader.

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